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Federal grant will help fire department

The Havre Fire Department will use a $66,000 federal grant to replace some of its older equipment.

The money is the department's latest installment of cash through the Fire Act Grant Program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Under the program, hundreds of millions of dollars are distributed each year to fire departments across the country.

In 2002, the Havre Fire Department was awarded $162,000, which was used to purchase a new fire truck. The truck was the first new fire vehicle the department had purchased since 1991, when a truck was funded by a bond issue.

This year's money will go toward the purchase of a new thermal-imaging unit, protective gear, and hand-held radios, said Assistant Fire Chief Tim Ranes, who wrote the grant application. The department also plans to use some of the money to install a ventilation system in the department's garage.

A thermal-imaging unit takes photographic images using heat sensors. The device could help firefighters find people trapped in a fire and identify the source of a blaze. The thermal-imaging unit will cost between $12,000 and $20,000, Ranes said.

The technology is one that larger departments have used with great success, Havre Fire Chief Dave Sheppard said today.

"It's fairly common now," he said. "The larger departments around the country have had it for some time. It's similar to infrared and night vision. It allows you to see through smoke and differentiate degrees of heat."

Kelly Jones, a five-year member of the Fire Department, said during an April interview that a fire crew in Baltimore used a thermal-imaging camera to locate a boy who had fallen through a frozen lake.

"Victim location is probably the best use for it, but it also allows firefighters to see hot spots behind the wall that they didn't know were there," Sheppard said. "So theoretically, it could cut down on damages as well - instead of taking out a whole wall, we could just take out the spots where the heat is at."

When combating structure fires, firefighters often cut into walls with fire axes in search of hot spots, which can cause a fire to flare up again.

The local firefighters union has been raising money for the thermal-imaging unit for several years. Through raffles, pancake feeds and other fund-raisers, the union has been able to raise more than $7,500, Sheppard said.

"They did a good job. They raised quite a bit of money. It's going to help a lot," he said, adding that the FEMA grant will pay for the balance of the thermal-imaging unit.

Other items the Fire Department will purchase with the money include new "bunkers," the fire-retardant suits firefighters wear.

The department's bunkers are about 6 years old, Ranes said. The grant money will be used to purchase 17 new sets.

In addition, the department will purchase six new hand-held portable radios and 15 air tanks. The air tanks provide the oxygen supply to firefighters when they combat a blaze. Each tank holds enough air to last about 20 minutes, Ranes said.

The department will also use the money to install a ventilation system in the department's garage, Ranes said. Fire trucks produce a fair amount of exhaust, which can make working in the garage unpleasant and even hazardous, he said.

Most of the work on the trucks is done outside, but occasionally crews must work inside the garage when the engines are running, Sheppard said.

The new ventilation system will have a carbon monoxide sensor that automatically turns the system on when CO levels get too high, he added.

The FEMA Fire Act grant coincides with another grant the Local Emergency Planning Committee was recently awarded. The grant, administered through the Department of Homeland Security, funded a decontamination unit that will be used by the Fire Department, Sheppard said.

The unit includes a self-contained "tent" where responders and victims of contamination disasters can be decontaminated, Sheppard said. The unit, which costs $52,000, is expected to arrive next month, he added.

The FEMA grant has allowed the department to replace equipment faster than it otherwise would have been able to, Ranes said.

"This is a real benefit for the people of Havre, because budgets are so shoestring these days," he said. "We would have had to budget for all this stuff, and it would have taken years to get it all. This grant allows us to replace badly needed equipment without being a burden to the taxpayer."


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